Recently released photos raise old questions in police-involved killing of Jeremy McDole

Esteban Parra Isabel Hughes
Delaware News Journal

Recently released images of a gun the Delaware Attorney General’s Office said was in the possession of a man fatally shot by Wilmington police more than four years ago as he sat in his wheelchair are reviving claims that the weapon was planted.

Despite a 2016 report by the Attorney General’s Office that beat back at claims police placed the gun at the scene, advocates wanting justice for Jeremy McDole, the Black man fatally shot, insist the only way to get to the truth is through an independent investigation. 

"A plethora of cases that I'm involved in shows that the Delaware Attorney General's Office is not capable of holding officers accountable," said Terence Jones, whose nonprofit, Total Justice, has been focal in recent demands that the case be reopened. "The Jeremy McDole case has shown that the Delaware Attorney General's Office, under Matt Denn and under Kathleen Jennings, for the past five years have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to police excessive force."

This is an image of the gun the Delaware Department of Justice said was found after Jeremy McDole was shot by Wilmington Police in 2015. The photograph, released on Tuesday, was not included in the original report it issued in 2016. The justice department said it was releasing the photos "in the interest of transparency."

Emboldened by a nationwide movement against police brutality, multiple protests have called for the reopening of the Sept. 23, 2015, incident in which four Wilmington officers fatally shot McDole. 

In the months after the fatal shooting, the McDole family sued the city of Wilmington and its Police Department and received a $1.5 million settlement in 2017. 

In a recent meeting with Jennings, Jones and the McDole family wanted the case reopened because of new evidence Jones had found. But the Justice Department disputes his claims, saying that Jones had indicated he had two new witnesses – yet one of them had already been interviewed on multiple occasions by the department, while the other witness has not been identified by Jones. 

Terence Jones, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Total Justice.

Jones said he has not produced the second witness because Jennings wouldn't commit to reopening the investigation. 

The Justice Department said it released the five photos Tuesday after Delaware Public Media asked if the agency had ever made public photos of the gun McDole was said to have. When the answer to that was no, the news agency asked why.

McDole protest:Jeremy McDole: Protesters peacefully march around Wilmington Saturday to demand justice

Mat Marshall, a spokesman for the department, said the reason “was unclear.”

"I wasn't here, and we've had significant staff changes in the intervening five years," Marshall said. "In either case, we didn’t have any objection to sharing the photos and furnished them to the reporter who reached out and made them available to the public on the AG's website."

This is an image of the gun the Delaware Department of Justice said was found after Jeremy McDole was shot by Wilmington police in 2015. The photograph, released on Tuesday, was not included in the original report it issued in 2016. The Justice Department said it was releasing the photos "in the interest of transparency."

Jones, however, even disputes this story, saying he'd told the Justice Department that they should release these photos. 

"It was released because of the meeting," he said. 

But the photos raise old questions.

Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer-turned-civil rights investigator, said it doesn't make sense why Wilmington officers removed the .38-caliber gun from McDole’s body and then placed it in the crime scene. 

"Every police officer in the United States is trained to protect the crime scene," he said. "They're not allowed to move any evidence, and they keep everyone out of the area to preserve it until the crime scene detectives come."

Wilmington police did not answer questions on Thursday if this was the appropriate procedure to remove the weapon and leave it on the scene’s ground, citing the Justice Department's investigation.

"We do not have further information to share beyond the content of that report and our prior statements," Wilmington police spokesman David Karas said.

In this image taken from a cell phone video and released by the Delaware Attorney General's Office, police approach Jeremy McDole in the the 1800 block of Tulip Street in Wilmington on Sept. 23. McDole was shot and killed by police.

Use-of-force experts who weighed in on the case said the proper procedure depends on the scenario.

Timothy Williams Jr., a police use-of-force expert and retired detective who spent nearly three decades with the Los Angeles Police Department, said if an officer does not know whether a suspect is dead, they should remove any weapons from the person to ensure they are not a threat.

“They should put it to the side or put it in a location where it doesn't get contaminated and no one else could take the weapon and confiscate it,” Williams said. “They should either put it secured in a bag and put it in the (patrol) vehicle’s trunk, or put it on the ground if that area is under control.”

But Kalfani Turè, a former metro Atlanta police officer and criminal justice professor at Quinnipiac University, said he watched videos of McDole’s shooting after the Attorney General’s Office made them public and saw that McDole would not have been a threat to police after he was shot.

"From what I witnessed, it was almost perfectly clear that he was mortally wounded in that wheelchair,” Turè said. “He was surely dead … so the female officer should have left the firearm there.”

“Everything becomes important for evidentiary purposes," he said, adding that by “tampering with the scene” – in this case, removing the gun from McDole’s waistband – the legitimacy of whether McDole actually had a firearm is called into question.

“You cast doubt,” Turè said. “And not only do you cast doubt, but you add on to the history of distrust the African American community feels towards police.”

Jeremy McDole

The 2016 report issued by then-Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said a weapon was found on McDole and was removed by an officer who did not fire her weapon. 

Three officers who did not discharge their weapons also reported seeing a gun on Mr. McDole’s person immediately after he was shot. One officer who had been at the scene but did not discharge her weapon recalls being the officer who first attempted to turn Mr. McDole over after he fell from his wheelchair. She recalls Mr. McDole’s pants being partly down when she turned him over, and seeing a heavy object in his boxers as she turned him. She also recalls saying “where’s the gun, where’s the gun” as she was turning him. After seeing the heavy object in his boxers, she recalls that she reached in and grabbed a weapon. She picked up the gun and, at the instruction of another officer, put it down on the ground behind her, out of Mr. McDole’s reach. She then began to assist performing chest compressions on Mr. McDole. A second officer who did not shoot her weapon was also present when Mr. McDole was rolled over, and reports seeing the barrel of a gun poking out of the right side of his boxer shorts after he was rolled over. A third officer who did not discharge her weapon recalls approaching Mr. McDole after he had been shot, and seeing a gun coming out of the bottom of Mr. McDole’s boxers after other police officers had rolled Mr. McDole over.

In this image taken from a cell phone video and released by the Delaware Attorney General's Office, Jeremy McDole is shown as police approach him on Tulip Street in Wilmington on Sept. 23. He was shot and killed by police. The findings of an investigation into the incident were released Thursday.

The three officers are not named in the report, which Jones said is problematic because it leaves him unable to question the officers about what occurred that day.  

The Justice Department’s May 16, 2016, report also cleared the four officers who shot McDole of any criminal wrongdoing.

But the 32-page report was highly critical of former Wilmington Police Senior Cpl. Joseph Dellose, saying he showed "extraordinarily poor police work" during the incident.

Background: McDole shooting: Wilmington police won't be charged

Dellose fired at McDole with a shotgun about two seconds after ordering him to put his hands up, the report found, creating uncertainty among other officers – Senior Cpl. Thomas Silva, Cpl. Thomas Lynch and Cpl. James MacColl – who, not knowing where the gunfire came from, turned their weapons on McDole.

The report concluded that Dellose should not be employed by city police in any role where he would carry a firearm in public.

Dellose parted ways with Wilmington police in April 2018, but the department has not provided a reason for his departure. The other three officers are also no longer on the force. 

Jones said he will continue to push for these men to be charged with McDole's killing. 

"Now I'm asking for the U.S. Attorney's Office to take this case over," he said, "because Kathleen Jennings is not capable of locking anybody up."

Send story tips or ideas to Isabel Hughes at ihughes@delawareonline.com or 302-324-2785. For all things breaking news, follow her on Twitter at @izzihughes_. Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, eparra@delawareonline.com.